Struggling through with joy...
Struggling through with joy...
My father had epic eyebrows. Unruly, wiry, thick, my mom trimmed them with tiny scissors every so often because they grew so long they hung in his eyes. When I was a little girl, I would pet them as he lay on the couch resting. He used those eyebrows to great effect, wiggling them when he said something outrageous, which was often, glowering with those great black hedgerows above his bright blue eyes when someone was doing something stupid. They slowly turned white as he aged, but they didn’t lose their power as they lost their color.
I inherited those eyebrows. Not nearly as bushy, thankfully, but with more curl because it isn’t enough for me to have thick, wildly curly hair. I also have thick, wildly curly eyebrows. As with many things I share with my father (skinny legs, a propensity towards anxiety, depression and dark thinking, a wicked temper) I resented my eyebrows for years. Initially I didn’t notice just how alike our eyebrows were, which may explain the paucity of desirable suitors in high school. Then I discovered tweezing and trimming and shaping, and my lifelong obsession with eyebrow maintenance began.
I’ve tweezed so much, in fact, that some of the eyebrow hairs have given up and, thank God, simply stopped growing. But they still curl and grow freakishly long, so I continue to be groom them with an old toothbrush and trim them with tiny scissors.
My eyebrow ministrations have decreased these days because I’m busy and middle aged, and I care a little bit less about how I look. Sometimes things get a little unruly, which is how I found myself staring at a long eyebrow hair sticking straight out at me last week. It refused to lay down even after I brushed it with my handy old toothbrush, and it popped back up after I layered a little eyebrow gel on it. “Hello!” it seemed to say. “Just a little visit from your dad.”
I left it. I wear glasses most of the day, so the rebellious hair would likely go unnoticed. It is a reminder of all the things I share with my father, good and bad. A reminder I’m getting older, will likely age in some of the same ways he did, will hopefully have the privilege of living longer than he did. A reminder that for all my efforts at inner peace and calm, I am still his daughter, prone to overreaction and the great joy and delight that sometimes come with it. It is the gentlest touch from him, like his hand on my head when I was a little girl, reassuring me he was still there.
It was a marathon day – 7 classes in a row before lunch, four more after, teaching from 8:50 to 12:20 with no breaks. I have to plan ahead on days like this like I might for a 5K: eat a good breakfast, finish my coffee before the first bell, drink just enough water to stay hydrated, but not so much I have to pee before 12:20. When I started in this position days like this ruined me for the evening. Making dinner was an impossibility and was usually consigned to my husband. Coaxing my kids into their pajamas brought out the worst in me. I snapped and stomped after them as they lilted into the bathroom to brush teeth, half dressed. Once they were in bed, I passed out on the couch while my husband read, no company to anyone but my elderly chihuahua curled in the crook of my legs.
Now it is April, and I’ve built my stamina. It’s beautiful outside, the sky blue and dotted with the fluffy clouds of spring. When I pick up my kindergarteners, the fifth class of my morning, we pause to sit for our mindful moment in the shade of the school. We breath our arms up and become butterflies, exhaling to fly. They seem calmed by this, happy, and I expect them to line up behind me to head into our classroom without incident. This kind of magical thinking might lead you to believe I haven’t taught for almost twenty years. Instead, I hear an enraged scream and cry, turning to see one of my students stomping to hide between the chain link fence and a trash barrel, his face red and wet with tears. “She cut in line!” he screams when I ask for an explanation, and my empathetic observations (‘I can see that you’re angry, let’s take some deep breaths’) give rise to the same sort of reaction I would have: no shit, genius. Leave me alone.
So I do. We move where I can still see him and the rest of the class sits in front of me as we practice the ways to see 8, 9 and 10 on our fingers. I flash four fingers on each hand and they whisper their predictions to each other; I flash three on one and five on the other. We’re still essentially doing the number talk I planned on, but without the power point slides of ten-frames I had ready to go in our classroom.
My angry little boy growls and yells when we look too intensely at him, which is to say any time I spend longer than two seconds checking on him. “We’re ready to head inside, please join us,” I call. He growls some more and curls into a smaller ball. We are alone out here on the playground.
I’m grateful, then, for the random things my students hand me as they leave my classroom: I dig the stub of a pencil and a scrap of red construction paper left behind from the last class. I write I need a help with S., please come to the playground, and send two of the kindergarteners in to the office. I pray they find their way – it’s a big school and they’re prone to distraction – and continue with my lesson.
I teach social and emotional skills, which, in kindergarten, is best instructed through play. It is their language. Today we are talking about pretend play as a way to develop empathy. Of course that’s not how I explain it to them. I say, “When we can think about what the person or creature we’re being looks like, sounds like and feels, we can also start to understand each other better.” They stare at me, unknowing, until I demonstrate. See? I am a horse. I feel excited to gallop, I whinny with happiness. Then I truly am a horse, galloping around my group of kindergarteners with glee, and they too are excited, and they jump up and join me in my galloping. I pray no one from the office comes out at just this moment. “Shall we all be happy horses?” I ask and we gallop and whinny around the blacktop.
My angry friend is dislodged by this display of joy and horsemanship. He races over to join us in our galloping, tears dry, as the counselor walks out and surveys the scene with a bit of confusion. I look at her and shrug, then give the thumbs up. She shrugs too, walking closer to get an explanation.
Later, I try to problem solve with the little girl who cut in front of her classmate. I’m not sure it’s effective. We have much more to learn about how our actions affect others, what an appropriate reaction is, that the world does not revolve around our wants and needs. Part of this will be learned, often with difficulty, in growing up. Part of this will be learned in my classroom, pretending, thinking, learning to breathe deep and manage when things get tough, talking it all over, and sometimes, by whinnying around the playground on a sunny spring day.